As consultants we often get tagged as a big part of the cause in the sameness of radio programming, along with the consolidated larger radio groups. Many see us as the pioneers with cookie cutter formats that ended up sounding the same in many markets. The same tricks, imaging, promotions, and music lists standardized.
While I can see the reason for the accusation with some I'm not a believer in the sameness of markets. Every market IS unique. I've worked in over 100 markets as a programmer, VP of Programming or consultant and there are obvious and clear differences in each one of them. Some of the differences come from the economic base of the market, the levels of education, housing situation, terrain, climate, heritage of the population, and their growth situation. Others come from the competition and the heritage of the station we are working with. And some just come from the style of the people in the area.
Some cities are friendlier, others more guarded. Some are more active and hustling, others more quiet and low key. Some are growing quickly, while others are watching their population and growth fade.
All of these are factors in helping a station reach it's full potential. If you don't take a careful and long look at all the factors in the 'market environment' you are going to leave audience, images, and dollars on the table that if wasted will limit your growth. It's also important to look at the competition and see who has impacted the audience and for what reason. For the real successful stations in always goes beyond 'the music position or mix.'
It does take an extra effort going beyond looking at perceptual research and ratings history. You have to 'get a feel' for the market and look at as much data as you can. Pouring over the Prizim data which defines the population into 15 social groups based on income, living conditions, occupation, age, and overall lifestyle. We used to get Prizim data in the front of the 'printed' Arbitron reports. But, it's not there in the E-Books and we also don't see it in Maximizer. I wonder why Arbitron took this page out? Perhaps no one was reading it, but it's packed with useful data on the real 'core' of the market and gives you a measurable system to look for key elements that make each market unique.
If you don't look at the unique moments in each market you are leaving A LOT ON THE TABLE. The key is getting as much data and also a real 'feel' for what makes a market unique.
One of the things I started to do as a PD was to take the first 90 days I was in a market and keep a log of the unique and different things I saw. I still do this in my notes on the first 2 market visits. The first impressions are always very important as you're eyes and ears are wide open to see the unique and different ingredients which are often the most valuable to key on. After you've been there a year as the PD I bet you don't see as many differences and unique moments as you did in the first 3-6 months.
If we want to really 'be local' and really connect with a community it doesn't happen because 'the community is just like someplace else.' It happens because 'this market is unique.' Cue on those moments in your strategy and tactics and you will make a much bigger impression with the audience.